For the low, low price of $400, I've spent the last few weeks in the office working exclusively on a new computer. Well, new to me, at least. It's an off-lease HP, refurbished by Insight Systems Exchange. The dual-core Athlon with 4GB of RAM and a 19" LCD runs Windows 7 like a champ, but I spend most of my time working in 64-bit Ubuntu 10.04. This is money well-spent.
No, the computer isn't brand new. The LCD isn't a slick wide-screen (although it does have both VGA and DVI inputs). And it came with Windows XP Pro. $70 for the Windows 7 license (academic upgrade) and about 10 cents for the CD on which I burned Ubuntu and a couple hours later had me working on a great productivity machine. This is no 3D engineering beast, but it handles everything that the average office worker, teacher, admin, or student might throw at it. Office 2010 runs brilliantly and the usual plethora of browser windows is no issue. At $28 a gig, the RAM was an easy upgrade, although most people would do well with just 2GB (the standard price of $215 for this machine gets you a single gig).
I often tell people that the standard lifespan for most consumer PCs is about 3 years. Some people obviously get 5, 6, or more years out of a computer, but most computers that are already 6 years old are ready for recycling. That assumes they've been sitting in someone's dining room, though, sucking dog hair and cheerios through their power supplies. Consumers don't lease PCs. Businesses do. And businesses rarely let dogs or cheerios into their climate-controlled buildings, making their PCs last a bit longer.
The first thing I did when the computer came in was to pull it apart. I was curious what "refurbishing" actually bought me, aside from a new keyboard (that I promptly replaced with an old Dell keyboard that I had laying around), a new optical mouse (that was perfectly fine), and a new monitor cable. It bought me a clean interior, free of dust and grime, a new fan cover, and what looks like a new DVD-ROM (it's just a little too pretty to be original). Suffice to say, anything that had been broken, dirty, or damaged was either cleaned or replaced.
So how is $400 for a complete system ($470 if you include the Windows 7 license, although there isn't much reason not to use the installed XP or the Linux distro of your choice) with a 3-year warranty? Given that the machine is off-lease (meaning ex-office) and refurbished, I'm quite happy with it. In fact, when computers break down from now on, I'll be checking Insight for available inventory before I call Dell or HP. Those mid-year breakdowns aren't usually budgeted and getting people back up and running quickly and cheaply will be the key.
Insight also allows students and teachers to purchase refurbished machines at academic discounts, making the company a great choice for parents who don't have a lot to spare but need a decent machine for their students.
Would I buy a whole lab of refurbished machines? I don't think so, but not because I don't trust the computers. Rather, if I'm creating a lab, it's going to be a media lab that needs state of the art PCs or it will be a thin client lab for power, cost, and management savings. 30 low-cost PCs don't fit either of those models. If I were to refresh an office or refresh teacher machines, however, I would definitely look at refurbished, particularly from Insight.